New & Noteworthy
Creature features weren’t as prevalent in the mid ‘90s as they are today. Back then, when a movie like SPECIES (**½, 108 mins., 1995, R; Shout Factory) came around in the middle of summer, it was something of a novelty – a sexy sci-fi thriller that assembled an atypical A-list cast including Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and future “CSI” star Marg Helgenberger. The movie was a sleeper hit, earned the venerated “Two Thumbs Up” from Siskel and Ebert and spawned a mini-franchise of its own, starting with an especially bad theatrical sequel in 1998.
For cash-strapped MGM, “Species” was one of its few bona-fide hits from that era, and its uncanny premise of a frequently naked blonde alien walking around Los Angeles trying to procreate found a willing audience. In fact, between Dennis Feldman’s fascinating premise – what if an alien signal sent from deep in space housed DNA instructions that scientists would use to breed an extraterrestrial being on Earth – and the creature designs of H.R. Giger, “Species” captivated adult viewers worn out on pedestrian summer-time fare like “Casper,” “Congo,” “First Knight” and “Batman Forever” (forget 2017 — 1995 was also a really bad summer at the movies!).
Kingsley plays the scientist who breeds “Sil” from that DNA strand – one that’s been injected with some human attributes, resulting first in a young Michelle Williams, who quickly mutates into the nubile Natasha Henstridge once Sil escapes from a lab. With Sil hoping to mate with anyone and everyone on the L.A. singles scene, Kingsley assembles a crack team including hitman Madsen, anthropologist Molina, empath Whitaker and scientist Helgenberger to find her before she threatens all of mankind – not just those she’s trying to sleep with.
I remember enjoying “Species” back at the time of its original release, but truth be told, the film has dated in a bad way, as have many films from that era. The overly serious script doesn’t produce much in the way of humor (even of the camp variety) even while adhering to a standard horror framework, just with a larger budget than is usually found with this kind of material. The primitive CGI, however, was never impressive, even by its era’s standards. That early digital work looks, unsurprisingly, even more inadequate today: Giger’s designs basically fused the female body with the title creature from “Alien,” yet there’s a glut of CGI, especially at the climax, that fails to do justice to his concept and is poorly executed, particularly considering the pedigree of effects artist Richard Edlund.
Christopher Young’s fine score gives “Species” a touch of class along with its central cast, but too much of this played like a leftover relic from a decade when the quality of summer blockbusters was already on a decline.
Shout Factory’s Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray offers a brand-new 4K scan of the movie’s Interpositive (2.35). Given that MGM’s US Blu-Ray was an early-format MPEG-2 transfer (it was released during that brief window when Sony was distributing MGM’s home video releases), this is an appreciable enhancement with excellent detail. The 5.1 DTS MA soundtrack does a solid job replicating the theatrical audio, and extras are highlighted by a brand new 36-minute documentary on the film. The featurette includes interviews with Roger Donaldson, cinematographer Andrzej Bartokiwak, Christopher Young and numerous special effects/make-up artists, with much of the (technical) talk comprised of how the FX were put together. All the other extras have been housed elsewhere on MGM’s “Species” DVDs (but were mostly left off the prior Blu-Ray), including an alternate ending, Making Of featurettes, two commentaries and trailers. Also ported over from the “Species II” Shout Factory Blu-Ray is a wide-ranging interview with Natasha Henstridge, recalling her work on both pictures.
Two tremendous Complete Series DVD box-sets are also new from Shout this month.
Though not a series I watched regularly, NBC’s HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET (100 hours, 1993-99) was one of the most acclaimed series of its time – a groundbreaking police procedural set in Baltimore. Fueled by an ensemble cast (Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, Ned Beatty among them) and numerous guest stars – from Robin Williams and James Earl Jones to Paul Giamatti and Bruce Campbell – “Homicide” profiled the work of a homicide unit in Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods. “Homicide” netted numerous Emmys and its acclaim enabled it to run throughout the bulk of the 1990s, setting the stage for subsequent shows like “The Wire,” which not coincidentally, was also a Baltimore-set series based on a book by David Simon.
Shout’s massive 35-disc DVD box-set collects all 122 episodes from the NBC series in a seven-season anthology with a bonus disc of extras. These include interviews with producers Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana, plus David Simon and many others; “Inside Homicide” featurettes with Simon and James Yoshimura; the feature-length doc “Anatomy of a Homicide”; commentaries on several episodes; a live panel discussion featuring Levinson, Fontana, Simon, and Yoshimura; “Law & Order” crossover episodes; and the 2000 follow-up, “Homicide: The Movie.”
Meanwhile, aficionados of William Shatner are urged to run — much like its often sprinting hero — to Shout’s long-awaited, Complete Series box of T.J. HOOKER (73 hours, 1982-86). Previous to this set’s release, fans have had to live with a Season 1-2 DVD from Sony that only included the initial 27 episodes from the show’s ABC run.
Launched as a TV-movie with different cast members (including David “Al” Hedison and Richard “Poltergeist” Lawson), this amiable, comic-book cop show was a lot more “ChiPS” than “Hill Street Blues.” While the latter earned critical kudos for its comparatively honest depiction of life in the precinct, “T.J. Hooker” is nothing but an unabashed ‘80s prime-time slice of escapism. Shatner is at his best as the title hero: a recently divorced, dedicated-to-the-job detective who breaks in a new partner (Adrien Zmed) on the mean streets of L.A.
Hooker isn’t, of course, your by-the-book cop — he’s your typical break-the-rules ‘80s TV hero, who will stop at nothing to take down local scum, whether it’s a pair of hoodlums in the pilot, or a bible-touting, mentally impaired nutcase in the series’ second episode.
“T.J. Hooker” has some great chase sequences (Shatner looks surprisingly spry here), including the indelible moment in the second episode when T.J. leaps off a ledge, onto a school bus being commandeered by a psycho holding both a TV reporter and a group of nuns hostage. It’s over-the-top but damn good stuff just the same! While you’ve just got to love some of Bill’s dramatic gestures and pauses, he’s also surprisingly good as T.J. The show works in a strong human element between T.J.’s relationship with his young daughters (one of whom is played by Nicole Eggert) and his marriage to his job, which takes its toll on his home life. There are even numerous references to Vietnam and other wars, and how combat can influence both battle-scarred cops like Hooker and Romano, his new partner (played by the overly charismatic Adrian Zmed).
After debuting as a mid-season replacement in the spring of ‘82, the series mixed it up a bit in its second season on ABC. Heather Locklear joined the show as cop Stacey Sheridan, while former “Moondoogie” James Darren was added to the cast as her partner in the fall of ‘82. The series ultimately fell into a formulaic TV pattern, but it’s still highly entertaining for both its good AND dated elements, and what more can you say about Mark Snow’s theme song, which is used incessantly throughout each and every episode? Also, Leonard Nimoy joins The Shat on the memorable episode “Vengeance Is Mine,” essaying a fellow cop who wants payback after his daughter is raped.
“Hooker” ran for three seasons on ABC before CBS picked it up for a single season (helping Columbia sell the series in syndication as well), where it concluded its run in May ’86. These later episodes included some Chicago-lensed shows and a feature-length TV movie, with many of them airing in CBS’ “Crime Time After Prime Time” late-night block.
Shout’s Complete Series set offers all 91 episodes from the series including the original pilot. Though the rarely-seen pilot seems to have been battered over the years (showing some discoloration and graininess in the print), the regular episodes look crisp and colorful, making for a must-have release for all Shatner addicts!
ADVENTURE TIME – The Complete Seventh Season DVD (286 mins., 2017; Warner): In the seventh season of the long-running Cartoon Network series, Jake the Dog and Finn the Human return along with the other inhabitants of Candy Kingdom. This time around, the exiled Princess Bubblegum tries to grow a new kingdom along the shores of Lake Butterscotch and Marceline decides she doesn’t want to be a vampire, setting off a multi-part story arc. Also included among the 25 Season 7 episodes is the award-winning stop-motion episode “Bad Jubies,” which became an instant fan favorite. Warner’s DVD box includes 16:9 transfers and 2.0 stereo soundtracks along with minisodes, song demos, animatics, a “Making of Bad Jubies” featurette and other goodies for “Adventure Time” aficionados.
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